by Cunningham Geikie, D.D.
Philologos Religious Online Books
The Holy Land and the Bible
A Book of Scripture Illustrations gathered in Palestine
Cunningham Geikie D.D.
With a Map of Palestine and Original Illustrations by H. A. Harper
British Influence in Palestine—View from the Summit of Scopus—Its Associations—"The Village of Jesus" and Shafat: Nob—Birthplace of Jeremiah—His Great Predecessor—Two Women Grinding at the Mill—Tel el Ful—Gibeah—A Great Crime and its Punishment—David and the Sons of Rizpah—Neby Samwil and its Memories—El Jib (Gibeon)—Er Ram (Ramah)—Geba (Gibeah)—Mukhmas (Michmash)—The Feat of Jonathan and his Armour-bearer
Before finally leaving Jerusalem I was glad to find that Protestant energy was doing so much for the community. Besides the English school for boys, with its sixty children and thirteen lads, there is, as I have said, an English school for girls, with seventy names on the books. The German Orphanage, moreover, cares for a hundred boys, and the Kaiserwerth Deaconesses have two hundred girls under their wise and loving charge. In addition to these, the Latin, Greek and Armenian communities have schools of their own. It must be difficult, however, to spread Christianity under a government which prohibits Moslem children from attending foreign instruction. The Turk, indeed, wherever he can, tries under one pretext or another, to hinder all English evangelical work, though the firmer attitude of France and Germany forces him to be more chary of interfering with the religious or benevolent enterprises undertaken by members of these nationalities. But alike at Joppa, Gaza, Bethlehem, and Nazareth, everything English is virtually proscribed by the Government; and I have found, since my return, that it seems hopeless to expect such energetic action from our officials at the Foreign Office as marks the Foreign Offices of Berlin and Paris, and secures their missions and hospitals in the Holy Land from the vexatious opposition encountered at every step by ours. We may talk of our greatness abroad, but it is only in our own dependencies. In the Turkish Empire, at least, our Government is a byword for pusillanimous and unmanly neglect of its subjects and their interests.
The road to Anathoth, or, as it is now called, Anata, starts at the Damascus Gate, from which you go under the shadow of the city walls to the north-east corner, at St. Stephen's Gate, and descend to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. Peasants and townsfolk were already astir when we set out, for Orientals begin the day early. On the road up Mount Scopus there were quarries on the left, in which men were working. Looking around from the lofty vantage-ground of the summit a magnificent panorama presents itself. To the east one sees the deep blue of the Dead Sea, the pink mountains of Moab—in many shades, lighter and darker, along their deeply furrowed range, which stretches on like a table-land—and the "circle" of the Jordan, with its patches of green; then, sweeping northward, the Valley of the Acacias, where Israel encamped, the waters of Nimrim, the gorge of the Jabbok, and the hills of Gilead, are seen.
The top of Scopus is famous as the point from which invaders have again and again looked down on the Holy City. It was apparently on this broad summit that Alexander the Great was met by the high priest Jaddua, clad in his pontifical robes, and advancing at the head of a long procession of Jewish dignitaries. It was from this point, also, that Titus looked down on the great walls and glittering splendour of the Temple; and it was on this bare brow of stone that the first Crusaders sank on their knees to bless God that they were so close to Jerusalem, though they were so nearly spent by the fierce heat and the want of supplies that men and beasts died in multitudes from the dearth of food and water. The yellow hills of Quarantania—the supposed scene of our Lord's forty days' fast—stand far below, shutting out the sight of Jericho, which lies behind them, while at right angles to them the brown valleys of Judah rise in a constant ascent to those around the hill on which we stand. To the south the white domes of Jerusalem shine in the light, and the long grey line of battlemented wall holds, as in a girdle, the open space of Omar, the houses of the city, and the high dome of its great church, beyond which the cone of Herodium, and the wild, confused hills of the wilderness of Judæa, rise as a background.
A mile and a quarter, or thereabouts, from Jerusalem, hidden in a narrow, fruitful valley, lay the hamlet of Isawiyeh, wheat and corn covering the slopes above it, and prickly-pear hedges fencing its large beds of cauliflower. "Isawiyeh" means "The Village of Jesus"; and it is quite likely that our Lord often stopped at it on His journeys to Jerusalem. It has, further, been thought to be the ancient Nob, where the Tabernacle was pitched for long time, but opinion is very undecided on the matter. "Nob" means "a high place," and was, apparently, in sight of Jerusalem (Isa 10:32); but Isawiyeh is shut out from the view of the city by intervening hills, and it does not answer to a "high place," for it is in a valley. A rival to Isawiyeh has been found by some in the village of Shafat, about a mile and a half to the north-west, owing its name to a contraction of Jehoshaphat, which was used in full so late as the fourteenth century. Its features are simple. A ruined saint's tomb, with a low dome still rising over falling walls, and a few pieces of ancient buildings, are the only notable things, unless it be two or three fig- and other fruit-trees growing at the tomb. Bare sheets of rock, scanty pasture for goats, and stony uplands, complete the picture.
Dean Stanley fancied that Nob might have stood on the northernmost of the three summits of the Mount of Olives,* while Professor Muhlau transfers it to the village of Beit Nuba, about fourteen miles almost west of Jerusalem. Supposing Nob to have been either at Shafat or at Isawiyeh, memories of great interest cling to these spots, for at Nob, the priest's city (1 Sam 22:19), the Tabernacle, though the Ark was not with it, stood in the time of Saul, with Abimelech for high priest (1 Sam 21:1; Matt 12:3; Luke 6:3). Hither David came in his flight from Saul, and nothing else being within his reach in the fierce haste, received the shewbread from the friendly priest to sustain him, and was girt with the sword of Goliath, which had been preserved in the holy place as a sacred national relic. The ruin of Nob dated it would seem, from this time, Saul taking a fierce revenge on both town and priests for the kindness shown to his rival. Jerome expressly says that Jerusalem could be seen from Nob; and in this respect Shafat suits as to position.
Sinai and Palestine, 184.The road to Anathoth from Isawiyeh is over rough hills and valleys, wild and desolate. Black goats browsed on the scanty herbage growing between the thickly sown stones. A shepherd-boy guided them, and recalled any that strayed by well-aimed pebbles from his sling, as, no doubt, had often been done by David (1 Sam 17:40). The life of a herd-boy is a hard one on these bare hills and in these barren valleys, where no shade can be found. "In the day the heat consumes him, and the frost by night," as Jacob said of a similar life in Mesopotamia (Gen 31:40). Jeremiah must often have passed over this bare track after his nation had been swept away to Babylon, when the sheep, cattle, and goats had been driven with them from the hills; and he must have felt the bitterness of the change when the pipe of the shepherd no longer sounded from the field, and no life cheered him where it had formerly abounded. How natural that in his anticipations of the happy days after the Return, he should picture in his mind that "again in this place, which is desolate, without man and without beast, and in all the cities thereof, shall be an habitation of shepherds causing their flocks to lie down, or pass again under the hands of him that telleth them" (33:12,13).
Anathoth, the birthplace of Jeremiah, is a small village lying on the top of a low hill, which is fretted over, in part, with loose stone walls protecting little or nothing, and of course in a very poor condition, like everything in Palestine, so far as I have seen, except the buildings of Bethlehem and its neighbourhood, which are Christian. A few olive-trees grow in scattered clumps on the plain below the village, but otherwise there are no trees in the landscape. It was a "town" of Benjamin, and was resettled after the Captivity, so that the solitude which grieved the prophet passed away after his death. Pillar-shafts, built into some of the walls, speak of mediæval structures—probably churches and other ecclesiastical buildings; indeed, the tesselated pavement of a church was recently discovered on the western side of the hamlet. The view from any of the housetops is wonderfully interesting in historical memories. The famous heights of Benjamin, Gibeah of Saul, Ramah, Geba, and others, rise in a lovely panorama round the prophet's home. Here he spent his youth and the first two years of his great office, till the hostility of his fellow-villagers threatened his life and forced him to betake himself to Jerusalem (1:1, 29:27, 11:21). The Holy City is hidden by the rising ground on the south and west, but to the east and north long sharp ridges of chalk, dotted with knolls which fleck the slopes with shadow, stretch away into the distance. To the west the hills are rounded instead of sharp; their harder limestone weathering thus under the sky and rain, instead of being washed away into sierras like the softer beds. Jeremiah must often have looked down the long ravines which sink one below another to the plains of the Jordan, beyond which the mountains of Moab, east of the river, stand up against the sky, and over the blue Sea of Death, washing the foot of these hills, and brightening the whole landscape by its contrast with the prevailing yellow or brown. He had before him, also, close at hand, a soft green hollow between his village and the high northern side of Wady Saleim, to refresh his eyes and heart in the midst of the dry and rocky prospect around. The neighbourhood must have been equally familiar to Jeremiah's great predecessor Isaiah, for no one who did not know the ground thoroughly could have painted the advance of the Assyrian army against Jerusalem with the local touches which he gives. "He is come to Aiath [or Ai]; he is passed through Migron; at Michmash he layeth up his baggage; they are gone through the pass; they have taken up their lodging at Geba; Ramah trembleth; Gibeah of Saul is fled. Cry aloud with thy voice, O daughter of Gallim! hearken, O Laishah! O thou poor Anathoth! Madmenah is a fugitive; the inhabitants of Gebim gather themselves to flee. This very day shall he halt at Nob; he shaketh his hand at the mount of the daughter of Zion, the hill of Jerusalem" (Isa 10:31-32 [RV]).
Two women were busy in a cottage at the household mill, which attracted me by its sound (Jer 25:10; Rev 18:22; Eccl 12:4). I have previously described the simple stones with which the flour of the family is daily prepared, but it was striking to see so vivid an illustration of the words of our Lord, that at His sudden and unexpected appearance, when He comes again, "two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left" (Matt 14:41). To grind is very exhausting work, so that, where possible, one woman sits opposite the other, to divide the strain, though in a poor man's house his wife has to do this drudgery unaided. It is pleasant to remember that under the humane law of Moses the millstones of a household could not be seized by a creditor; the doing so was to take "a man's life in pledge" (Deut 24:6). Anathoth is 2,225 feet above the sea.
Shafat lies, as I have said, between two and three miles west of Anathoth, over a rough, up-and-down country, but there is a stretch of flat land to the south of it. The strange conical hill Tel el Ful, 2,750 feet high, rises behind this level, with a mysterious mound on its top, which excavation has shown to have been originally an artificial platform, supported by rough walls with steps leading up to it, or, perhaps, by a lower platform surrounding it. When it was raised no one knows, but as it is visible from Jerusalem and all the villages far and near, it may have ben used for a beacon, to give the alarm in war, or to announce the rise of the new moon in times of peace. There are no traces of any other buildings. The eye ranges over Anathoth and Isawiyeh, and down to the deep gorge of the Jordan, which looks specially beautiful from this point. On the south-east lie the waters of the Dead Sea, apparently as calm, in their deep blue, as the heaven above; and beyond them, of course, are the mountains of Moab. To the north lie Ramah and the hill of Geba, while to the west and south are, successively, Gibeon, the stately height of Mizpeh or Neby Samwil—the queen among the heights of Benjamin—and, in all its romantic beauty, the Holy City, with its roofs and domes, its towers and minarets.
Tell el Ful has been very generally believed to be the site of the ancient town known as Gibeah of Benjamin (1 Sam 13:2, 14:16), from its lying in the territory of that tribe, or as Gibeah of Saul, because that king belonged to it (1 Sam 15:34, 11:4; 2 Sam 21:6), or as Gibeah of God, probably from an old sacrificial high place being near or on it (1 Sam 10:5,13). Captain Conder supposes that the name of Gibeah was attached to a small district reaching towards Michmash, but the town itself would certainly be on a height. If this be so, Tell el Ful is associated with a very dark chapter of Old Testament history. Just as, at this time, many travellers, men and women, riding or on foot, pass to and fro along the road immediately beneath it, a poor Levite journeyed on from Bethlehem with his wife three thousand years ago, late in the evening. He was making for the hill-country of Ephraim, but turned aside to rest in Gibeah for the night, as the sun was nearly setting. No one appeared, however, to give them shelter, so that the two sat down in the open space in the middle of the town, to spend the night in the open air, if hospitality were finally refused them. "And, behold, there came an old man from his work, out of the field, at even, and he lifted up his eyes, and saw the wayfaring man in the open place of the city; and the old man said, Whither goest thou? and whence comest thou? And he said unto him, We are passing from Bethlehem-Judah into the farther side of the hill-country of Ephraim; from thence I am, and I went to Bethlehem-Judah, and I am now going home,* and there is no man that taketh me into his house. Yet there is both straw and provender for our asses, and there is bread and wine also for me, and for thy handmaid, and for the young man which is with thy servants: there is no want of anything. And the old man said, Peace be unto thee; howsoever, let all thy wants lie upon me; only lodge not in the street. So he brought him into his house, and gave the asses fodder, and they washed their feet and did eat and drink" (Judg 19:16-21). But in the night the worthless ones of Gibeah committed a frightful crime against the defenceless strangers, the terrible punishment of which, by the tribes at large, nearly exterminated the whole clan of Benjamin (Judg 20:35).
* Sept.Here, in later times, the peasant king, Saul, had his dwelling, near which rose a tamarisk, under whose shade he used to rest (1 Sam 22:6). Here also, sitting by the wall of this rude palace, he held a feast every new moon, with his favourite companions in arms (1 Sam 20:5-25). But the spot is memorable, besides, as the place where David gave up to the Gibeonites, to be put to death, the two sons of Saul, whom Rizpah, one of the dead king's wives, had borne to him, and the five sons of Saul's daughter, Merab, borne to Adriel, the husband to whom she was given by her father after having been promised to David (1 Sam 18:19); and the Gibeonites "hanged them on the hill before the Lord," or, rather, stuck up their bodies on posts, after the poor men had been put to death. "Then," we are told, the unfortunate "Rizpah took sackcloth, and spread it for her upon the rock, from the beginning of harvest until water was poured upon them from heaven"—from the end of May till late in the year—and she suffered neither the birds of the air—the hateful vultures—to rest on them by day, nor the beasts of the field [to devour them] by night (2 Sam 21:9); till, at last, David heard of her broken-hearted love, and had the bones gathered and laid honourably in the rock tomb of the family, along with the bones of Saul and Jonathan, brought from their grave at Jabesh Gilead for interment in the ancestral resting-place.
Across the plain stretching for some miles north and south, on the west side of Tell el Ful, and about a mile in breadth, with rolling land in its centre, lies the village of Bet Hannina, at the foot of Neby Samwil, which is the loftiest hill in Central Palestine, and, apparently, famous as the Mizpeh of ancient Hebrew story. It is a long, slow ascent to its top. A path, at times between stone walls, neglected for who knows how many generations, leads to the summit.
Though the soil is exceptionally fertile, the district has so few inhabitants that even the choicest spots lie desolate. The top of the hill is 2,935 feet above the sea, and is seen from every part of the neighbouring country, towering over a host of lower summits. A mosque with a slender minaret—once a church of the Crusaders, and still showing the form of a cross—crowns its utmost height, covering the supposed tomb of the prophet Samuel. A number of olive-trees grow beside it, but there is also an abundance of huge stones—remains of ancient walls—and a plentiful display of the worthless thorns and rank weeds everywhere so common. Captain Conder thinks that Mizpeh has yet to be identified, and Sir George Grove would recognise it in Mount Scopus, close to Jerusalem; but tradition and general consent assign it to the top of this commanding hill. The word means a "watch-height," and Neby Samwil, so named after the "prophet Samuel," is such a "look-out" as cannot be found elsewhere in Palestine.
One need not hesitate to say, indeed, that the view is the most extensive in the country. Rugged valleys, roughened still more by scrub, with olives rising at some clear spots, and patches of corn looking out in soft green between stretches of thorns or loose stones, lay sinking, wave beyond wave, at my feet; the very picture of such places as our Lord had in His thoughts when He spoke the parable of the sower, with its good soil, its paths through the corn, its rocky stretches, and its tangles of thorns (Matt 13:2-8). A mile off, on the north, rose the hill El Jib—the ancient Gibeon of Benjamin; its limestone beds jutting out horizontally, in broad bands up to the top; the softer material between each layer having, more or less, been washed away. Five miles further off, in the same direction, high on its hill, rose El Bireh—the ancient Beeroth—2,820 feet above the sea, and beyond it, Rummon, east of Bethel—the ancient "Rock Rimmon"—2,500 feet above the sea-level. Lifting your eyes still farther northwards and westwards, the top of Mount Gerizim and the shoulder of Carmel are seen. Er Ram—the Ramah of Benjamin—and Jeba—the ancient Geba—lie three or four miles off, almost to the east, though a little north as well.
The hills immediately round Neby Samwil are all softly rounded, not steep, rising gently for the most part, and offering every facility for terrace cultivation, to their very tops. A shepherd lad was leading out his flock of black goats from the village of a dozen poor huts, close by, on the hill-top, using the peculiar cry of his craft. A hollow in the rocks a short distance below me was filled with a clear flowing spring; but instead of the old well-to-do Mizpeh, only some wretched hovels made in holes in the limestone were to be seen, with a few others built up, in part, of the materials of fine ancient structures.
On this lofty hill the tribes of Israel assembled in their thousands to determine what punishment should be meted out to the Benjamites for their hideous wickedness towards the wife of the Levite (Judg 21:1,3,5,8; see ante pp. 662-663). Here also they gathered, at the summons of Samuel, during the worst times of Philistine oppression, and after a public confession of their sins, were sent forth to victory and deliverance (1 Sam 7:5-13). It was on Mizpeh that they met, once more, for the momentous choice of a king, ending in the election of Saul to the great office, amidst loud cries, then first heard in the nation, of "God save the King!" (1 Sam 10:17-25). One of the three holy cities* which Samuel visited in turn, as judge, stood on its now deserted slopes, or on its summit. Here Jeremiah lived, with the small body of his people who had escaped from being led off to Babylon, after the destruction of Jerusalem (40:6). During the Captivity it was the seat of the Chaldean governor. Here the Crusaders caught their first sight of the Holy City, calling the hill Mount Joy, "because it gives joy to pilgrims' hearts, for from that place men first see Jerusalem." On this very height, in fine, Richard the Lionhearted fell on his knees, and, covering his face with his hands, refused to gaze on the city of his Lord's humiliation and death, desecrated as it was by the infidel, crying out, "Ah, Lord God, I pray that I may never see the Holy City if I may not rescue it from the hands of Thine enemies."
* Sept.El Jib—the ancient Gibeon—is reached by a path leading down from Neby Samwil. Watercourses run, apparently, in every direction, but they all, in the end, find their way to the plain of Sharon, for El Jib, like Neby Samwil, stands on the west side of the watershed of the country. The flat, natural terraces, formed tier above tier by the ring-like beds of limestone which jut out, were fairly tilled, and sprinkled with figs, pomegranates, and olives, but the village on the top had only from forty to fifty scattered hovels. Yet no spot is more clearly identified with stirring incidents in Bible history. It was once a great Amorite or Hivite city (Josh 9:7, 11:19; 2 Sam 21:2), and its people were the only part of the old inhabitants left alive by Joshua. That they were spared was due to their skilful diplomacy (Josh 9), though they were made slaves of the Tabernacle and afterwards of the Temple, drawing water and hewing wood, under the name of Nethinim—"The Given," or "Devoted." In later times, Saul's half-heathen zeal led him to massacre many of this pagan remnant, but his children had to suffer a bloody reprisal, seven of his sons being given over to the Gibeonites by David, to put to death in atonement for their father's crime, as the story of Rizpah has reminded us (2 Sam 21). On the waste stretch between Gibeon and Ramah, the battle was fought in which Joshua broke the power of the allied kings of the Amorites, or "hill-men," and secured possession of Central Palestine (Josh 10). The "Pool of Gibeon," where David and his men faced Abner and the adherents of Ishbosheth, in the very heart of Saul's own district, is still to be seen below the east end of the hill—a great, right-angled tank of strong masonry, twenty-four paces long and fourteen broad, lying mostly in ruins, and no longer holding water. Indeed, its bottom is sown with grain, for the noble spring which once fed it, rushing from a deep pool in the rock, now runs past unused. On the opposite sides of this sat the two bands, facing each other, till twelve from each side rose to prove their mettle, and began a fight in which the whole twenty-four fell dead. Here, beside this old tank, they lay in their blood that afternoon, giving to the spot the name of "The Field of the Strong Men" (2 Sam 2:16); still virtually preserved in that by which it is now known, "The Valley of the Fighters." Near this, "by the great stone that was in Gibeon," Joab, ever faithful to David, but faithless to all others, basely murdered Amas, his rival, "who wallowed in his blood, in the midst of the highway"; his murderer standing by, red with blood from the girdle to the sandals (2 Sam 20:10; 1 Kings 2:5). On this hill stood the "great high place"—that is, the Old Tabernacle—at which Solomon offered huge sacrifices, and had his famous vision (1 Kings 3:4,5ff), and here he caused Joab to be killed as the poor grey-headed veteran, justly overtaken by vengeance at last, clung to the horns of the altar (1 Kings 2:28). Beside the "great waters" of this tank, moreover, Jeremiah and the band with him were freed from the Chaldeans; here, also, Johanan overtook Ishmael, the murderer of Gedaliah, and, through this piece of villainy, the final destroyer of Judah (Jer 41:12).
From the top of the hill, the ridge on which stood Ramah and Gibeah of Saul rises a few miles off. An olive plantation covers the south-west slope, and the broad wadys north, east, and west were fairly tilled, black patches of newly-ploughed land alternating with the green of rising crops. The eastern slope, which boasts of some vines, figs, and olives, is watered by several springs, one of them the abundant stream that once filled the great tank.
To get to Er Ram you cross a tract of rolling land, about three miles broad, to the east of this point, passing a heap which marks Adaseh, one of the battle-fields of Judas Maccabæus, where he defeated Nicanor. The hills on the way are low, and gentle in their swell, like the waves of the sea when it is sinking to rest after a storm. In the hollows between them, green sometimes relieved the yellow monotony of the landscape, but the view as a whole was tame and dull. Before we reached Er Ram, two Roman milestones, still in position, showed us that this was the old military highway towards the pass of Michmash, the key of Central Palestine. The road to Nablus runs a little west of Er Ram, in the plain below the hills, but must have been commanded by any fortress erected at Ramah. It was for this reason, doubtless, that the truculent Baasha, king of Israel, fortified that post, causing such danger to Jerusalem by doing so that Asa was glad to invoke the aid of Syria to force him to retire from it, and proceeded at once to dismantle the stronghold of his enemy when it was captured, carrying off the stones and timber to fortify his own frontier towns or villages of Geba and Mizpeh (1 Kings 15:17-22; 2 Chron 16:1ff). The hill rises high in isolation above the neighbouring ground, but has now only a wretched village on it, with the ruins of an old Crusaders' church, and of a tower, the foundations of which may be very ancient. Half way up the ascent were the remains of a small temple, or perhaps khan, beside a dry tank, the roof of which had once been supported by six pillars, with plain capitals. The hovels of the village itself spoke of better days in the past, for bevelled stones looked out from the walls of some, and in the little yard of another was a short, slender pillar. Ruins abounded in the neighbourhood, as you cast your eye over it, and everything spoke of a glory long departed. It was here—at the frontier town of Benjamin—that the Chaldeans collected their prisoners, before marching them off through the pass of Michmash to Babylon; a circumstance used by Jeremiah with the finest effect, when he supposes the spirit of Rachel, the mother of the tribe, to have left her tomb by the wayside, near Bethlehem, to grieve in mid-air over the unreturning throng. "A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping; Rachel, weeping for her children, refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not" (Jer 31:15).
Geba lies about two miles nearly east of Ramah, on a separate hill of the same small chain; a poor, half-ruinous village, once a town of the priests (Josh 18:24, 21:17); now, having nothing sacred but a saint's tomb, as ruined as all else. From this, the way rose very steep, up a stony, desolate ascent; not too barren, however, for some sheep and goats to browse among the stones. About half way between Jeba, or Geba, and Mukhmas, the ancient Michmash, but to the east of a straight line from one to the other, the famous pass begins, through the Wady Suweinit, "The Valley of the Little Thorn-tree, or Acacia," to Jericho; in ancient times the main road from the east to the hill-country of Central Palestine. Michmash, which is famous in one of the most romantic episodes of Old Testament history, lay less than a mile due north from the point where the wady, running south-east, contracts into a fissure through the hills, the sides in some places precipitous, and very near each other; in most parts eaten away above, so that the cliffs form slightly receding slopes instead of precipices, with a comparatively broad bottom below; the wady, however, still preserving its character of a gorge, rather than of a valley. The whole way, from near Michmash till it opens on the Jordan plains, behind the modern Jericho, where it is known as the Wady Kelt, is thus a narrow sunken pass, with towering walls or grim roughened slopes of rock on each side, in some places 800 feet high, and, throughout, only far enough asunder at any part below to allow of the passage of a small body of men abreast. The whole length of this gorge, including its doublings and windings, is about twelve miles, but in that distance it sinks from a height of 2,040 feet above the sea, near Michmash, to about 400 feet below it, where it opens on the Jordan slope—a fall of more than 2,400 feet.
The village of Mukhmas lies on a broad saddle, more than 600 feet below Ramah, and 230 feet below Geba, which is about a mile and a half west of the chasm of El Suweinit. The ground, sloping gently from Michmash towards Ai and Bethel, is still very generally used for growing barley, and was anciently so famous for this grain that the Jewish equivalent of our proverb, "to take coals to Newcastle," is "to take barley to Michmash." A fine brook flows down the valley on the north, bordered by numbers of small but well-proportioned oak-trees, from which I had the pleasure of gathering some mistletoe, the branches being richly festooned with it. A chasm to the south of the village though less than a mile off, is not seen from it, and indeed, only a very small glimpse of it is to be had from any part till you are close on the brink; a narrow spur of the hills concealing it on the north, and flat ground reaching to its edge on the south. I was greatly interested in the locality, as that of the adventure of Jonathan and his armour-bearer (1 Sam 14), which not only charms by its audacity, but was of vital importance in Hebrew history. The identification of its scene is fortunately easy.
Josephus describes very minutely the position of the Philistine camp which Jonathan assailed. It was, he says, a cliff with three heads, ending in a long-sharp tongue, and protected by surrounding precipices; and such a natural stronghold is found close to Michmash, on the east; the peasantry giving it, even now, the name of "The Fort." A ridge stands up in three round knolls, over a perpendicular crag, ending in a narrow tongue to the east, with cliffs below it; the slope of the valley falling off behind, and the ground rising, to the west, towards Michmash. Opposite this "fort," to the south, a crag rises up to about the same height—from fifty to sixty feet—so steep as, apparently, to forbid any attempt to climb it; the two sides answering exactly to the description in Samuel: "a rocky crag on the one side, and a rocky crag on the other side" (RV). These two crags, in the Hebrew Bible, are called Bozez and Seneh—"The Shining," and "The Thorn" or "Acacia," respectively (1 Sam 14:4)—names still applicable when we see them. Seneh, "The Thorn," survives in "Suweinit," the name of the wady; Bozez, "The Shining," explains itself at once on the spot. The two crags face each other, from the east and west respectively, so that one is nearly always in shade, while the other is equally favoured by sunshine. Even the colour of the cliffs has been affected by this; the shady side being dark, while that which has always been exposed to the glare of the light is tawny beneath and white towards the top. The growth of a thorn-tree on the one side, and the beating of the sun on the other, were doubtless the origin of the names by which Jonathan knew them three thousand years ago. That he could really climb the northern cliff, though with no small difficulty, has been proved by a repetition of the feat in our days. But then there was no Philistine picket overhead! On the precipitous height, the lowest courses of a square tower are still to be seen, so that an outpost must have been stationed here in ancient times.
It was up the face of this cliff, then, that Jonathan and his armour-bearer clambered that day, the Philistine soldiers above mocking them, as they tried to ascend, with the cry, to each other, and to the two braves—"The Hebrews come forth out of the holes where they have hid themselves!" "Come up to us, and we will show you something!" (1 Sam 14:11,12). But on the heroes went, climbing up with hand and foot, Jonathan first, the armour-bearer after, the two falling upon the outpost as soon as they had reached the top, and cutting down twenty men within the space of half an acre. The warders of Saul, looking out from the hill of Geba, two miles off, to the south-west, must have seen the stir from the first, and the spread of general panic among the garrison that followed, as "they melted away, and went higher and thither" (1 Sam 14:16 [RV]). A path leads down from Geba to Michmash; and, this distance once passed by their enemies, the Philistines would have been cut off from their retreat, if they had not flown quickly. Away, therefore, they sped, down the valley leading past Ai to Bethel, then south-west across the watershed to Upper Bethhoron, then down the steep descent to Lower Bethhoron, and across the broad corn valley of Ajalon, to the Philistine country. The pass by which they thus fled was that in which Joshua had consummated the great victory over the Canaanites in the first days of the nation, and where Judas Maccabæus was to defeat and drive back the invaders of his country.
It was by the Wady Suweinit that the Assyrian army entered the land in the invasion so magnificently brought before the imagination by Isaiah. They have already, in his picture of their advance, climbed through the pass from Jericho, and "have taken up night quarters at Geba; Ramah trembles; Gibeah of Saul is fled!" Every local touch is given; and it is even added how the baggage has been sent beforehand, by a side wady, to Michmash, that the army might press on straight towards Jerusalem (Isa 10:28,29. See also ante, pp. 660-61).
Michmash itself is a very poor village, but its houses show traces of a very different state of things in former ages. Old pillars lie about, and some of the dwellings are wholly built of large squared stones, from ancient ruins. Others have great dressed stones for lintels and doorposts to their little courts; and in one spot lies the carved head of a freestone column. Under the Romans, as under the Philistines, a military post was stationed at the pass close by, one memorial of which I bought from a peasant: a small bronze statuette of Diana with her quiver, but the feet gone, which had been found in ploughing. How long had it lain since its first owner lost it or threw it away?